O-contingencyplan

I’d like to think of this era as the twilight phase of COVID-19. No, not the “Twilight” phase, sparkling Robert Pattinson not included. I mean that anymore, normalcy has come creeping back into our lives like elongating shadows. I mean that hope has come to rest within us yet again. Of course, that means we are also bound to be disappointed.

I began the school year with a similar burst of hope and two jabs of Pfizer in my arm. But it wasn’t long until that door slammed in my face. Literally. I found myself pressed against the closed door of my apartment, angry and fearful and alone. I was back in quarantine.

I had done this before. I had dealt with brutal symptoms. I had fought with the burning shame of dragging a hastily packed suitcase into isolation housing at Piper Hall. Still, when I look back a week later, this quarantine topped all others. 

As a human, it was manageable. But as a student, it was brutal. That’s because more than half of my classes didn’t have a substantial contingency plan in place for a quarantined student.

Believe me, I want the sun to set on COVID-19 as soon as humanly possible. But right now, it’s still very real, and there must be contingency plans in place to ease the burden of isolation. In the twilight phase of COVID-19, the all-or-nothing online approach is not acceptable. Educators must still be willing to continue adaptive learning to include students impacted by quarantine. 

As a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I was beyond excited for the beginning of the first semi-normal semester. After Chancellor Ronnie Green announced a return to the classroom in fall 2021, I felt that sense of hope return. Even when restrictions tightened in the first week of classes, something about the semester felt normal. It felt like I could pretend.

But I could not ignore the facts forever. Nobody could, especially with the rise of the Delta variant. According to the New York Times, both COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases are at their highest since this winter. To soften the blow, the city of Lincoln reimposed a mask mandate on Aug. 26, plunging us all back into the new normal we’ve learned to hate. 

However, when the mandate went into place, it didn’t really matter to me. That’s because I was already in quarantine and already bearing the burden of my coursework.

Let’s be honest, every person’s experience in quarantine is different. So, there is a chance I experienced something completely different from another fellow isolator in the twilight zone of COVID-19. But of the peers I talked to, I found something similar.

First — and thankfully — I wasn’t ignored. None of my professors docked my attendance grade or penalized me in any way. When I notified them of my situation, they were all very empathetic and understanding. 

However, only one professor offered me a way to still engage with the class despite my absence, similar to the online learning of the 2020-21 school year. From my other instructors, I got the same solution you’d give a student with strep throat — ask your classmates for notes, come into office hours. The only problem was that my quarantine wouldn’t knock me out for a single class period while I suffered through a fever. It would alienate me for a week despite my ability to keep contributing.

Herein lies the problem: even if we want to return to normal, we can’t do it yet without leaving people behind. Without a COVID-19-friendly option to engage students, those in quarantine are left to fend for themselves academically. As I mentioned above, college students have been doing this in the short-term for years — gathering class notes and discussing material — but quarantine is much longer and far more damaging academically.

There needs to be adaptive planning in place for these quarantined students to still receive the quality of education they deserve. Since I quarantined during Week 1, I only missed a few days of material and I still felt slammed with assignments and content. I can’t imagine the stress of a student who quarantines during a full week of material or midterms.

Now, I don’t want this to be seen as a measly complaint from an entitled student. I most definitely don’t want my plea to come across as a dismissal of the painstaking work educators have undergone during this pandemic to help their students grow. In fact, I think by continuing to have quarantine contingency plans in the classroom, we honor the fantastic advancement made this past year in the realm of adaptable teaching.

For example, one of my classes this last week did contain a contingency plan and it was incredible. The instructor had each student bring their laptops to class and join a Zoom call. Our class was discussion-based, so when each student wanted to add to the conversation, they’d simply unmute and speak. If a Zoomer like me wanted to chime in, the professor kept her own laptop volume up so the class could hear and respond. 

Unlike the other half-produced powerpoints and grainy photos of class notes, I felt completely engaged in the material, and through my presence, was also able to make a class impact. As the year goes on, I’m sure there will be many others in my position who will also benefit.

Instruction at every level has advanced this past year as educators crafted adaptive models of learning. Maybe those models are not ideal. Maybe we would all rather revert back to the traditional classroom, but we cannot revert back yet. Until the virus falls — an issue that itself deserves a whole other article — we can’t pretend that the world is normal.

In the twilight phase of COVID-19, our impatience gets the best of us. We want to surge forward into the old normal with inhuman speed. We want to rid ourselves of masks and hold our loved ones close. We want to study and engage with our peers.

But I preach patience. There is nothing more important than ensuring that after COVID-19 ends, we still have the tools to continue life as normal. That, of course, means keeping ourselves healthy and safe, but it also means we have a duty to prepare ourselves for the future. Businesses continue to keep our economy rolling. Our government acts beyond the scope of the virus. 

In academia, it is crucial to send students into the world with all the skills they will need to be successful. It cannot be half-done.

No matter their situation, students deserve to be included in class discussions. They deserve to create and experiment through hands-on projects. They deserve to be paired up with a sparkly century-old vampire in biology class.

And yes, I did devote a few hours of quarantine to watching the “Twilight” movies on Netflix.

Emma Krab is a junior English and journalism major. Reach her at emmakrab@dailynebraskan.com